Weekly Highlights #16: Community, Speed, Leading in Adversity, and Navigation

Grateful for… community.  Had a few reminders this week of how like-minds and good friends can encourage, strengthen, test, and support in all of life’s endeavors.  Thankful for such relationships wherever I find them.

Challenged…  to be much, MUCH faster.  I reached out to a colleague at work who produces dashboard reports for one of our regions that is doing well in a broad set of metrics: he’s being very effective, and I wanted to ask why.  I expected him to say that he a more refined product that had taken years to perfect.  Instead, he said the secret was speed.  Instead of weeks or months, he could make changes for the whole organization’s reports in a few hours, or create a new product entirely in just a few days.  As a result, he had more relevant products and greater buy-in from his team.  A great reminder that fast beats perfect almost every time.

Watching…. Scott Frost, the coach of the University of Nebraska’s football team.  Scott has been a winner for a long time:  he quarterbacked a national championship team at Nebraska, went on to play safety for six years in college, and has had an incredibly successful coaching career.  Most recently, he took over as coach of an 0 – 12 UCF team, and two years later led them to a 12 – 0 record.   It’s likely he’ll be very successful at Nebraska.

But the Cornhuskers are currently 0-4, and clearly having a disappointing season.  Scott’s press conferences are an incredible lesson in how to lead through adversity: acknowledge the present, have faith in the future, trust the process, and show up to do the work every single day.  Inspiring to watch.

Quote I appreciated…  repetition as navigation.  One thing that is always surprising for leaders is how often you end up repeating yourself.  It can be exhausting and discouraging.  I’m reading The Culture Code, and the author talks about this work.  As the he describes, this simple act of connecting daily work to the bigger picture can be the difference between engaged energized teams, and people wanting to slit their wrists.  I thought this quote was a great piece of framing for that behavior.

“The value of those signals is not in their information, but in the fact that they orient the team to the task and to one another.  What seems like repetition is, in fact, navigation.  Those signals added up in a way you can hear in team members’ voices.”

Stay encouraged, and have a good week!

Weekly Highlights #15: Outside in the mountains, If–, belief, big decisions

Happy Thursday!  I wanted to share a few reflections from the last week…

Grateful for… quality time outside.  This past weekend, we drove the mountains and spent the day camping with old friends.  We cooked and shared a meal, sat around the fire, played simple games, and enjoyed being outside.  The kids explored, found sticks and rocks, went walking, and spent the whole day eating and happy.  It felt like the first time in a while we spent the whole day relaxing with no need to rush off to something new–it was great.

Outside in the mountains… so relaxing.

Reminded of…  a favorite old poem:  If– by Rudyard Kipling.


If you can keep your head when all about you
    Are losing theirs and blaming it on you,
If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you,
    But make allowance for their doubting too;
If you can wait and not be tired by waiting,
    Or being lied about, don’t deal in lies,
Or being hated, don’t give way to hating,
    And yet don’t look too good, nor talk too wise:
If you can dream—and not make dreams your master;
    If you can think—and not make thoughts your aim;
If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster
    And treat those two impostors just the same;
If you can bear to hear the truth you’ve spoken
    Twisted by knaves to make a trap for fools,
Or watch the things you gave your life to, broken,
    And stoop and build ’em up with worn-out tools:
If you can make one heap of all your winnings
    And risk it on one turn of pitch-and-toss,
And lose, and start again at your beginnings
    And never breathe a word about your loss;
If you can force your heart and nerve and sinew
    To serve your turn long after they are gone,
And so hold on when there is nothing in you
    Except the Will which says to them: ‘Hold on!’
If you can talk with crowds and keep your virtue,
    Or walk with Kings—nor lose the common touch,
If neither foes nor loving friends can hurt you,
    If all men count with you, but none too much;
If you can fill the unforgiving minute
    With sixty seconds’ worth of distance run,
Yours is the Earth and everything that’s in it,
    And—which is more—you’ll be a Man, my son!


Amazed by…. the new world record in the marathon.  Eliud Kipchoge lowered the world record in the marathon by 78 seconds–by far the largest drop in the last 50 years.  Interestingly enough, he was a part of the Nike Breaking2 project, which used tactics illegal in competition to try to help the competitors break 2 hours in the marathon.  Makes me think about how important belief of something extraordinary can be in actually achieving it.  You can read about the new record here.

One way to make a big decision… I was talking with a few friends this week about grad school.  Several younger coworkers were asking mentors (who had not gone to grad school) how they should think about the decision.  Such an interesting question:  a personal decision, that is a huge investment, with lots of complex factors, where it’s tough to measure the results.

And, there’s lots of reasons not to go:

  • Tuition is expensive–and that doesn’t count lost income or the increased tax rate you’ll have as you pay off loans
  • Most knowledge you’ll gain can be found quicker and cheaper through Khan Academy, an online course, a few books by top professors, or a quick curation of your twitter feed
  • Most people you meet will not be in your industry, or provide any benefit to you in your career

Knowing all this, one simple, effective way I’ve heard of thinking about the decision is this:

“Is this an investment that the person I want to be would make?”

Hat tip to Sally Blount, former Dean of Kellogg, for the framing.

Stay encouraged and have a great week!


Weekly Highlights #14: aspen stroll, easy plans, a dreary beautiful reminder

Grateful for… a stroll in the aspen trees.  We were able to hike in Maroon Bells scenic area, and the fall colors are at their peak.  It was a beautiful reminder of the changing seasons–something that I am learning to appreciate more and more each year.  

Peak season for the aspen trees

Enjoyed… This article on the value of walking by Brad Stuhlberg, at Outside magazine.  Good reminder that the best exercise is what you are able to do consistently, and that simply walking is enough.

Impressed by… the power of an easy plan.  I’ve been wanting to improve our family’s finances for a while, so I came up with a 7-Point Plan to address them.  It’s a list which looks at our largest expenses, with a straightforward step to improve each.  I’ll update my progress here.

But – as I start, I’ve been amazed at the energy I feel in implementing a simple plan.  It’s easy for me to make things more complicated, to fail to track my progress, or to hesitate in the midst of complexity.  Having a clear, straightforward plan is really fun, and I’ll have to try it more often 🙂

Appreciated…  a stop in the Peter Lik Gallery in Aspen.  We were exploring a new place, and have always loved his photos (which are better in person!).  The one that jumped out this time was a dreary photo of a familiar place–a walkway in Central Park in New York City.  I know what cold, wet, New York mornings feel like–so I’m not surprised that no one is in the photo.  It was a good reminder how easy it can be to miss the magic–that that beauty can be anywhere, as long as we’re willing to have the time and patience to appreciate it.

Stay encouraged, and have a good week!

Weekly Highlights #13: slowing down, commitments, Unstoppable, inspiration

Grateful for… the chance to slow down.  The last few months feel like they’ve flown by.  If I go outside, it still feels like summer here in Colorado: the sun is shining, the trees are green, the temperature is in the high-80’s–it’s still flip-flops-board-shorts-weather for at least a few more months.  But – at the same time, it’s starting to feel that summer is gone in a flash.  School has started. Pumpkin spice latte’s are on sale in Starbucks.  The neighborhood pool is closed.  I passed Christmas decorations in a store today.  So it also feels like summer, which just started a few weeks ago, is already gone.

And it’s been a great summer!  We’ve seen family, gone on roadtrips, done hikes without the backpacks for the first time, celebrated a 90th birthday, made numerous trips to the pool, splashed in rivers, discovered our neighborhood’s obsession with Independence day, went camping for the first time, experienced a rollerskating rink for the first time, went to the zoo, planted a successful garden, started smoking meat, and generally had an amazing time.  And–it still feels like it’s flown by far too fast.

Summer Sunset in colorful Colorado

So I’m grateful to know how to slow down this race of seasons: reflect, write, take time to be grateful and remember the points along the path.  Seems like a small consolation, but I have really found that it helps–and I’m grateful to all of you, who help hold me accountable to make time for it.

Something I’m thinking about…  A few weeks ago, I competed in the Pikes Peak Ascent–which is normally a half marathon up Pikes Peak:  a 13.1 mile run with 7.8k feet of elevation gain.  The run ended up being cut short because of hail on the summit, but it was still a great adventure.

Reflecting, it’s amazing the amount of exercise I did in the past year because of the commitment to this run.  We first thought of this race almost a year ago, as something unusual and ambitions that we might attempt–literally as we were eating doughnuts instead of working out.  In order to qualify for it, we trained for and finished a half marathon back in February.  Then, in the months leading up to the race, it was a constant reason to find time to get out and train, often with company:  such a powerful lesson in the value of making and keeping commitments.

Looking forward to…  this documentary about Bethany Hamilton.  Already ordered the book for the kids!

Quote I appreciated… attributed to Pablo Picasso:

“Inspiration exists…  but it has to find you working.”

Stay encouraged, and have a good week!

The Five “What’s” and “How’s”

I recently wrote a post about moving beyond the default questions–about asking good next questions for projects.

Specifically, I noticed two sets of questions that good leaders ask:

  • What’s the backup plan?
  • How should this feel for our customers?

Here’s another set of questions I’ve noticed:  The Five What’s and How’s.

I think most people have heard of the “Five Why’s”–which is an iterative technique to understand the root cause of a problem.  And it works surprisingly well.

In my work, I often understand the root cause of the problem, and the next step is to figure out what needs to happen to change it.  Asking iterative questions works in this situation too.

As an example, one regional team I work with knew that they needed buy-in from operational leaders to make an important change.

  • What do we need to make this initiative successful?  We need leaders to buy-in to this change.
  • How do we get buy-in?  Have the leaders be present with their teams, dedicate time, celebrate actions we want, and make commitments to their peers.
  • What should happen?  The leaders need to know what to do and feel like it’s important.
  • How might we do this?  Hold a fun, engaging event that everyone does together.
  • What should we do to support this?
    • Create structure: a timeline and plan to follow
    • Provide specific actions–a packet with a shirt to wear, certificates to present, schedules and scripts to follow, questions to ask, an occasion to celebrate, and an ask to share photos and stories
    • Make space for next steps: scheduled prep calls and a time to debrief together afterward

Handling the specifics makes change much easier–something to remember for the future.



Weekly Highlights #12: Growth, Gathering, Feedback, and Belonging

Grateful for…  the reminder of growth.  In these days of late August, I’m enjoying checking on the garden.  My wife and I are spending our summer in a new house, and planted vegetables for the first time in seven years.  And, as happens with life, planting them was hectic:  we started the seeds the same afternoon that we prepared the house for a renovation project and left on a weekend road trip.  We transferred to the raised beds over a frantic weekend and barely managed to finish.

Growth in the garden 🙂

Now when we go outside, we look forward to little surprises.  Occasionally, we’ll find a new zucchini or a tiny watermelon has appeared overnight.  It’s a good reminder for us that with time, life grows and planted seeds bear fruit.

Thinking about…. gathering.  This week, I was in charge of hosting a summit for a national team that I help lead.  I’m trying to be more intentional about these moments, but here were some things we included in the experience:

  • Check-in / Check-in Question.  This is an easy way to start a gathering by hearing the voices of everyone in the room.  The version we commonly use has three parts.  First – a “sit”, which is 3 minutes of meditation at the start of the meeting.  Second, a question that each person answers–not necessarily in order–which shares a bit of themselves with the room.  Third, a statement that they’re all-in.  Many things can pull us away from a meeting, and recognizing the commitment to be present in the room can be a powerful thing.

Of these three, the check-in question is the easiest to implement.  Simply starting a meeting with something like “What are you grateful for today?”, or “What was on your mind on the way here?” while being willing to wait for all to speak can help people open up for the rest of the gathering.

  • Sharing Best Practices.  The purpose of our summit was to share what each of our markets was doing and learning.  This generated a ton of great discussion, and was helpful in letting each person share what is going well.
  • Ideation and Brainstorming.  Because we also wanted to chart a course for the future, we did an ideation exercise.  We used post-its on the wall (though private data collection might have been better), then voted on which were most relevant and important.
  • Celebration.  We took a moment during the gathering to honor the great work of a few team members who had gone above and beyond.  It was a simple ceremony–a certificate, kind words, and a photo–but we felt like it meant a lot to those we recognized.
  • Commitment.  We asked each person who attended to commit to one thing they would do differently after the gathering.  Ideally, this is not forced, written down, and something that people can be easily reminded of in the future.

Advice I appreciated….  from a leader I’ve worked with, on taking feedback and interviewing.  Full article here.

“Once I was talking to a friend about some negative feedback I’d gotten, and he told me a trick to put any feedback you receive into one of three categories:

  1. “I knew that I needed to work on that. Time to work harder.” This is the type of feedback that really resonates with you that you know is right.
  2. “Whoa, I hadn’t thought of that, but I think it feels right.” This type of feedback might have caught you off guard but feels like it is coming from a good place and you should take action.
  3. “Nope.” This is the type of feedback that is either something that doesn’t matter or is something about you personally that you can’t change or simply doesn’t feel right.

For example, once I got some feedback that I needed to be more formal in my client interactions. It caught me off guard and honestly felt very inauthentic to me, and so I just decided to throw it out and move on. I find this exercise to be quite freeing.”

Quote I’m thinking about…. I came across this statement in the The Magic of Thinking Big by David Schwartz.  It’s attributed to Werner von Braun:

“Everything in space obeys the laws of physics. If you know these laws, and obey them, space will treat you kindly. And don’t tell me that man doesn’t belong out there. Man belongs wherever he wants to go — and he’ll do plenty well when he gets there.”

Stay encouraged!

Beyond the Default Questions

gray pathway surrounded by green tress
Push beyond the well-worn path.

I think we all have a default set of questions about new things we’re planning.

For an event, mine are:  Who? What? When? Where? How?

For an initiative at work, I use:

  • What’s the goal?
  • Who’s in charge?
  • What metrics will we track?
  • What’s the budget?
  • What’s the timeline?

Recently, I’ve noticed two questions I should be asking more often.

The first is simple:  “What’s the backup plan?”

“…I have always found that plans are useless, but planning is indispensable.” -Dwight Eisenhower

There’s bound to be friction, delays, bumps in the road–particularly with new initiatives, when change is happening and people are involved.  Thinking through contingencies is an easy way to make success more likely.

The second is a brilliant question I’ve learned from my manager: “How should this feel for our customers?”

“People will forget what you said, and they’ll forget what you did.  But they will never forget how you made them feel.”

This question often comes as the project details are being fleshed out.  I’m usually thinking about the list of things that needs to happen, the timeline, the details, and the budget–all the default questions I have out of habit.

Posing this question forces me to step back–to make my plans more welcoming, more relationship-focused, warmer, and more engaging.  And, so far, the results are always better for it.  It’s easy to forget that if you miss on the feel you’re trying to create, the other details cease to matter.

I hope these ideas let you challenge your default questions this week.  Stay encouraged!